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Ukraine – the deadly chessboard

Ukraine – the deadly chessboard
  • PublishedApril 26, 2022

Given the unprecedented level of propaganda and misinformation that has so far characterised the war in Ukraine, it is difficult to work out not only who is doing what to whom but why. What are the motives of the various players and is Africa reading the game correctly? asks Onyekachi Wambu.

Peace will not return to Ukraine until the parties involved have achieved their stated objectives, compromised or one has been firmly defeated. So, what are these objectives? Why is so much at stake, and what are the implications for Africa, depending on who wins? Let us look at some scenarios.


Given the civil war in effect since the 2014 change of government, between the new nationalist government, and the Russian-speaking areas of Donbass (and Crimea), there are multiple objectives.

The nationalists want to preserve territorial integrity and centralisation, while ultimately moving westward to the EU/NATO, their prime external supporters.

At best, the rebels want autonomy or a looser federation which would protect language rights, while remaining within the orbit of Russia, their external supporter. (Indeed Crimea, de facto and de jure, has joined that world.) At worst they wish to remain militarily neutral.

Results so far: Aside from morality, ethics, and propaganda, in power terms the rebel position is the reality most articulated on the ground, though there have been huge human and other costs to each side.

The miscalculations of the nationalists lost them Donbass and Crimea in 2014. Based on the promises of the EU and NATO, they ignored the Minsk Agreements and continued military action to seek the return of Donbass.

Now their miscalculation – not  guaranteeing neutrality – is seeing them lose vast areas of their country in the unfolding drama. Having had Russia directly join the fray, it is likely they will inevitably have to settle on the original terms required by the rebels / Russia, which would make the total miscalculation by the nationalists a really grievous one.

The West

The Ukraine gambit has been maximally about absorbing Ukraine into the EU and NATO, based on the geopolitical belief that without it, Russia would cease to be a truly Eurasian power.

Minimally, the gambit involves cynically bogging down Russia to bleed, as in Afghanistan. In either scenario a weakened Russia would not provide the essential support to China that was needed in the coming major confrontation and to maintain the West’s global hegemony. At the time of going to press, the West has been reluctant to fight a kinetic war, except through its Ukraine proxy.

Results so far: Russia’s kinetic action has blocked Ukraine’s NATO membership. The West’s reluctance to confront Russia directly has revealed a ‘paper tiger’, with clear implications for others such as Taiwan, relying on its protection. Its reliance on full spectrum financial, economic and information warfare has been unprecedented, underlining the extent of its global hegemony. Paradoxically, it has also in the process fatally undermined its own business model (i.e. the primacy of property rights, the dollar as a reserve currency, individual responsibility and equal treatment) in the wake of asset seizures, cancelling people from international cultural organisations solely for being Russian, and its universal treatment of refugees.

Finally, its privilege and hypocrisy is exposed, whereby it has never been sanctioned by the world for its own or its allies past invasions. Huge blowback from the sanctions is expected, both domestically on Western economies and geopolitically, as nations wean themselves off the Western-controlled financial, economic, informational, political and cultural systems.


Objectives – stop NATO expansion; protect ethnic Russians; all while preserving Ukraine within the Russian orbit, offering an alternative vision of Eurasian connectivity.

Results so far: Russia miscalculated the degree of Ukraine resistance and the severity of the Western response, and will pay a heavy price. But its kinetic action will probably succeed with terms that will leave Ukraine neutral, within a new European (global?) security architecture.

Though diminished, Iran survived sanctions, becoming a regional power in the process. So, a major power like Russia will too, and every day it continues to stand, a new multipolar world alternative emerges, with the real beneficiary of all this probably being alternative, Chinese-led global financial, economic and political systems.


At the UN General Assembly the majority of African nations voted against invasion of other countries, but so far have not issued sanctions against Russia, despite enormous Western pressure.

Expecting huge food, energy and other price rises, the continent does not see Russian sanctions as being in its interest.

Meanwhile, the continent is in sit-tight mode, awaiting the new order to emerge. Africa remembers too well its old proverb: “When two brothers quarrel, it is frequently the watching stranger that inherits their father’s property.”

Written By
Onyekachi Wambu

Onyekachi was educated at the University of Essex and completed his M.Phil in International Relations at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He worked extensively as a journalist and television documentary. He edited The Voice Newspaper at the end of the 1980s and has made documentaries and programmes for the BBC, Channel 4 and PBS.

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